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Various industry stakeholders and the relevant representatives from the eThekwini Innovation Workstream of the eThekwini Economic Council were invited to the Industry-Academic Forum Webinar to discuss their respective focus areas and potential areas of collaboration with the Durban University of Technology (DUT) on Monday, 28 June 2021, via MS Teams.  

The DUT online webinar is in line with its strategy, ENVISION2030 and its Engagement Framework 2030, as part of its engagement with its quad-helix partners. 

This was done under the helm of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research, Innovation & Engagement Office led by Professor Sibusiso Moyo the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research Innovation and Engagement; Cooperative Education, led by the Acting Director, Dr Themba Msukwini and Technology, Transfer and Innovation, led by the Director: Prof Keolebogile Motaung at the DUT.  

In attendance at the Industry-Academic Forum Webinar were Prof Sibusiso Moyo (Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research, Innovation and Engagement & Co-Dean Confucius Institute, DUT); Acting Director, Dr Themba Msukwini and Technology, Transfer and Innovation; Prof Keolebogile Motaung (Director: Technology Transfer & Innovation, DUT); Mr Jones Rudi (General Manager: Volvo Penta, Volvo Southern Africa Group); CHIETA’s Ms Kedibone Moroane, (Executive Manager: Research and Learning); Mr Justice Matarutse (Programme Manager: Innovation/Economic Research, Strategy and Innovation Development); various industry stakeholders and DUT staff and students.

The Programme Director at the webinar was DUT’s Dr Farai Dziike, who spoke on the idea behind the DUT industry academic forum and bringing into perspective of what the whole engagement is all about.

“DUT intends to embrace our industry partners and also highlight what DUT has to offer,” he said.

He further unpacked of what exactly DUT does and how it intends to engage with industry partners and work with them from now onwards in all the current and future engagements that DUT is going to have.

“We feel that as a university we cannot move forward without our community around us. Part of our community includes business, commerce, the immediate society around us, the municipality, the government and everyone else we can work with,” he said.

He said that DUT’s first engagement is directed at the University’s industry partners, where DUT feels that it can contribute towards the development of industrial activities. 

“Things are changing. Like right now you can see that we are now all in a meeting from the comfort of our home, not because by choice, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So we are seeing DUT is projecting itself as a melting pot where industry and academics can work together to manoeuvre around this situation where we are saying that with the research activities at DUT, we can assist industry through academic research that can be converted into industry solutions to problems you might face as a result of,” he said.

He indicated that this industry academic forum is meant to create opportunities for engagement through corporate social responsibility and also a community engagement stream where industry can meet the academics.

“You will also notice that through these engagements we can also create opportunities for students to be trained in a way that aligns them to the needs of industry in the current scenarios. So, we are saying that through this forum we are going to make it clear to our industry partners how we can help, how we can cooperate and move forward together,” said Dr Dziike.

Officially welcoming the attendees to the webinar was DUT’s DVC for Research, Innovation and Engagement (RIE), Prof Moyo, who said that with the announcement that took place, and with a rising number of COVID-19 cases that this webinar would probably just be one of the ways in which Industry stakeholders and the DUT have to continue engaging for some time.

She then highlighted some of the things that the DUT is doing because it was also an engagement session where industry stakeholders and the DUT could have a dialogue and focus on collaboration opportunities with its industry partners.

“What is it that makes us well-positioned to partner with industry? The first thing is to know that amongst Universities of Technology we rank first in terms of our research and innovation capacity and 5th nationally amongst all South African universities, in terms of the Times Higher Education rankings. In terms of the impact of the work that we do, this work ranges in order. The other thing we do is that because we are involved also in human capital building, we do rank 6th amongst all universities in terms of producing PhD and high end knowledge,” she said.

Prof Moyo explained more about DUT’s ENVISION2030 strategic plan that the RIE contributes to all the four Perspectives and 12 Objectives of ENVISION2030.

“We want to make sure that our staff are innovative by nature and entrepreneurial and we also want to make sure that our graduates are adaptive and become productive citizens of the city of the region, of the country where they can also create jobs and not just rely on getting employment. In terms of research, innovation and engagement, what we value most in this space is excellence, respect, impact and also the community. That is our people, the ones that we are dealing with, whether its students, staff or members of the community. These values are important that they embedded within our strategy. We also know that while we strive for excellence and being the best in our region, we want to be able to succeed; ethically, in everything that we do and we care about how we get there in terms of the impact on the environment and everything else that comes with it,” she said.

She relayed further on where we are as DUT’s academic profile by Gender from 2018 to 2021. She spoke on DUT’s targets, especially in the science and engineering fields.

“Increasing the innovation capacity of the region of the University itself, we have to have more science engineering, technology training offerings and that’s why this engagement is important,” said Prof Moyo.

She focused on the history of the DUT, explaining that it’s is a globally recognised university based in KwaZulu-Natal, the second most popular province in South Africa.

“The university comprises of five campuses in Durban and two campuses in Pietermaritzburg with a total of six faculties striving to transform the lives and livelihoods of over 33 000 students. The DNA of the ENVISION2030 strategy at DUT is to be people-centred and engaged, innovative and entrepreneurial, therefore the university remains at the cutting edge of higher education technological training and research, aiming to ensure students possess the highest qualification in their filed and provide excellence in the working world,” she said.

She then focused on the DUT contributions to the KZN Provincial Economy, explaining more about the percentage of graduates annually, small micro and medium student enterprises, infrastructure projects in Durban and Midlands campuses, the annual University budget, the role of Research, Innovation and Engagement, which is aimed at tackling community and societal and industrial challenges.

She named the key niche research focus areas such as Water, Enzyme Technology, Nanotechnology, Food and Nutrition Security, Computational Modelling and BioAnalytical Chemistry, Systems Science, Urban Futures, Peace Studies, Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Drug Delivery Systems-Plant Biotechnology, Management Studies, Energy, ICT and Society, Health Studies, GenderJustice and Human Development, Transformation through the Arts and Design, Space Science Programme, Green Engineering and Process Sustainability and Smart Grids.

Prof Moyo further emphasised on DUT’s established research and innovation focus areas such as the Institute for Water and Wastewater Technology. She indicated that the Director of the Institute for Water and Wastewater Technology at DUT, Prof Faizal Bux has 28 years of experience in the field of water and wastewater treatment technology, winning the NSTF Water Research Commission Award.

“The institute offers short courses and training to staff from municipalities, water utilities and industry to enhance their skills and keep abreast on the latest technology developments in the water and energy sector. Also, over the past five years we have published in excess of 126 journal articles and 83 conference presentations nationally and internationally,” she said. 

Prof Moyo also spoke on the DUT Business School which launches its Business School and MBA programme in June this year. She relayed that courses also offered in March 2021, is for a Post Graduate Diploma in Business Administration NQF 8, and a Higher Certificate in Operations Management: Project Management NQF 5.

“The Executive Education Division of the Business School will also be offering short courses in Project Management Supply Chain and Logistics,” she said.

Speaking about the link between the University and the Workplace was Dr Themba Msukwini, Acting Director: Co-operative Education and External Engagement.

He gave more insight into the role and core functions of the Co-operative Education, emphasising that his department looks at creating partnerships with commerce, industry, Government and communities.

“We look at providing strategic leadership to DUT on all aspects of Co-operation Education, coordinating Work Integrated Learning (WIL) and graduate opportunities, establishing properly constituted advisory boards for each programme at DUT, research Co-operative Education development, trends and related activities, as well as engagements of SETAs funding for WIL and internship,” he said.

Dr Msukwini spoke on the much-anticipated DUT Annual World of Work Careers Fair 2021 which is earmarked to take place virtually from 4th to 5th August 2021.

He relayed more on the exciting, digital procedures that will form part of the online Careers Fair where companies will be given the opportunity to showcase careers to DUT students by virtual exhibitions. He said that currently there are 72 registered organisations that have confirmed their attendance and participation in this exciting, forthcoming virtual Fair.

Delving more into the importance of fostering University-Industry collaboration was Prof Motaung. She outlined the institution’s ENVISION2030 strategic plan, why there is a vital need to collaborate with industries, the role of the Role of Technology Transfer & Innovation Office, Entrepreneurship Centres, recommendations and areas of collaborations between industry stakeholders and the DUT.

“Collaborating with industries enables us to systematically include additional development and training for students. Working on projects, students developing critical skills including teamwork, creativity, communication and critical thinking,” she said.

Prof Motaung explained that as a corporation with the role of bridging industries and universities, a Technology Transfer & Innovation Office (TTIO) provides a service of assisting with patent applications for technologies that resulted from research by university researchers and in transferring the patent rights for technologies to companies. She also indicated that university spin-offs have remarkably strengthened the linkage between universities and industry.

“The number of technology patents and spin-offs coming out of university research has a significant impact on regional economic and social development,” she said.

She relayed further on role of the DUT TTI Office, saying that it is responsible for technology transfer and other aspects of commercialisation of research that takes place in a university.

Prof Motaung said that the office also plays a crucial role in the process by identifying developments ripe for translation to real world solutions, obtaining patents and copyrights that protect them, and licensing products and processes to existing companies (or forming new businesses) to produce and market the products. 

“As part of its research and innovation focus within ENVISION2030, DUT actively encourages researchers to consider the commercial opportunities that may arise from their research activities. Professional support is available to the researchers to promote innovation, commercialisation and entrepreneurship. To also manage its intellectual property portfolio, both in terms of its position as an anchor institution located firmly within its region, to transfer knowledge and research outputs for the benefit of society and its quad-helix partners, whilst at the same time maximising and diversifying its income streams,” she stressed.

She spoke about the areas of collaboration such as the launch of the Luban Workshop and the Product Lifecycle Management Competency Centre (PLMCC) Project, (3D design to manufacturing).

She also conveyed more on an exciting DUT medical device, a connector arrangement for portable mechanical ventilators.  

Going forward, she relayed that there is a vital need to encourage lecturers to spend some time in the industry which is relevant to their discipline, as well as encourage spin offs from the university, offer training to lecturers and allow students to translate their ideas into commercialisation,” she said.

Explaining more on one of DUT’s long-standing industry partnerships with Volvo Penta was General Manager: Volvo Penta, Volvo Southern Africa Group, Mr Jones Rudi. He spoke on the origins of Volvo Penta, part of the Volvo Group.

He relayed that Innovation has always been part of it, and that they have a very big outlook into sustainable power solutions both on land and on sea, and a very big focus on the environment.

“We were acquired by the Volvo Group in 1935. So that’s been quite a long period of innovation. Simply driven through a vision of sustainability, but also a forward looking technological outlook which falls in line very much so with your own (DUT’s) outlook in visions from that point of view,” he said

He also indicated that they have been actively involved with taking in graduates on an annual basis and that he really looks forward to some further joint collaboration.

“We are always moving forward. And if we look at it continuously, it hasn’t stopped by the end of this month we will have our joint sustainability programme signed up together with the Volvo Group and they will be a very, very fast development of these sustainable objectives. I mean overall with technological advancement, digitalisation and electrification, but also the development of digital services and sustainable services, which is very exciting, but also really in our idea of development, that is where I can see the opportunities for us to collaborate with our academics and our students and come up with local solutions as well,” he said.

Another industry partner, the Chemical Industries Education & Training Authority’s (CHIETA’s) Ms Kedibone Moroane, Executive Manager: Research and Learning, spoke on CHIETA’s priority areas.

She shared on how they work with universities and how those activities are facilitated and how they can be extended to industry and the communities its offered to.

She focused on some of the strategic pillars which the CHIETA Board have identified as a key drivers of change.

“We have adopted innovation, digitisation, collaboration, as well as transformation as our four strategic pillars which we are going to be focusing on to drive change for the sector and we want to do this so that we can really increase our impact as a SETA. And this is where we are finding a lot of synergy with what the university requires, which is a very long standing partner of ours. We are going to really collaborate in a meaningful way,” she said.

One of the DUT’s biggest partners is the eThekwini Municipality and representing the city was Programme Manager: Innovation/Economic Research, Strategy and Innovation Development, Mr Justice Matarutse, who spoke on the innovation, space and work streams in their engagements with the universities and industry.

He spoke on the innovation programme at eThekwini, saying that essentially this is born out of the cities accelerated and includes inclusive growth path, which is called the shape Durban economic strategy.

“There are three main focus areas. The first being a strengthening urban management and resident engagement. Quite an important pillar for this city, the second being enhancing competitiveness in investment attraction and the third area being improving the business environment within these areas,” he said.

He further relayed that the city is looking at options on how they can innovate the tourism experience with the end goal of increasing the overnight stays in this city by domestic or international visitors and then in the last area, as well as looking at improving the business environment.

“Within DUT there’s the Institute for Water and Wastewater Technology Institute for Systems Science. So, we want to be able to collaborate with them, understand what they are doing. We also support the research institutions,” he said.

A question and answer session ensued followed by the vote of thanks given by Prof Motaung.

“I think DUT we are ready because of the kind of facilities that we’ve got. DUT is open for business and we have a lot we can do together,” she said.

Pictured: One of the speakers at the webinar,  Director: Prof Keolebogile Motaung at the DUT.

Waheeda Peters

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